PLAYOFF PREVIEW

Dynamo-SKC: Breaking down the playoff opener

Alberth Ellis and the Dynamo hope to celebrate again tonight. Photo by Wilf Thorne/Houston Dynamo

Every time the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City have met in the playoffs, the winner has gone on to play in the MLS Cup Final. In this case, both teams are just focused on getting to the next round.

The Dynamo return to the MLS Cup Playoffs after a three year absence, going through three different head coaches and heavy roster turnover in that span. They enter Thursday’s match as the hottest team in the Western Conference, undefeated in their last six encounters.

Sporting KC, meanwhile, have been a poster child of consistency in the league as evidenced by their seventh consecutive playoff appearance. Their end to the regular season, however, has been anything but as they finished winless in their last five matches.

Both team’s will be without a key defensive star. Dynamo defender A.J. DeLaGarza - second in minutes played for the team this season - suffered a torn ACL on Sunday, ending his season. Sporting will be without Tim Melia - the favorite to win the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Award - who suffered a hamstring injury earlier this month.

The one game elimination in the knockout round will take place at BBVA Compass Stadium - where the Dynamo have only lost one of their 17 home games. The venue was decided just last Sunday as Houston jumped Kansas City to become the 4th seed.

A winner must be decided. Two extra time periods of 15 minutes will be contested if the match finishes tied in regulation, with team’s able to use an additional substitution in extra time. If no winner is crowned after 120 minutes, the match will be decided by penalty kicks.

Home cooking vs. traveling on short rest

Having this match in Houston is a huge win for the Dynamo. They have a 12-1-4 record at BBVA Compass Stadium this season - the only loss coming in the team’s first game after Hurricane Harvey - and have picked up 80% of their points there. Sporting KC have a 2-8-7 record on the road, are coming off playing in the altitude of Salt Lake City on Sunday and have had only a few days to focus on this match.

Scorching attack vs. league-best defense

The Dynamo are fifth in goals scored among Major League Soccer teams and feature the highest scoring offense in franchise history. The Dynamo’s core of forwards - Erick Torres, Alberth Elis, Mauro Manotas and Romell Quioto - account for 41 of the team’s 57 goals, but anyone on the team is capable of scoring. They will face off against the team that allowed the least amount of goals in 2017 in Sporting Kansas City - the question is how much of that remains without Tim Melia in goal.

Battle of the minds

This game may not be looked at for the matchup between the two strategists but it does feature two of the better minds in MLS. Wilmer Cabrera, in only his second MLS head coaching job, has revamped the Dynamo roster under one of the league's lowest payrolls in his first year as the manager. He has gotten the most out of his players by rotating the squad throughout the year, using 32 different lineups in 34 matches.

On the other end of the sideline will be Peter Vermes, one of the current frontrunners for the U.S. Men’s National Team job. Vermes is the architect at SKC, having served as the technical director since 2006 and as head coach since taking the job as interim during the 2009 season. He led the club to its second MLS Cup title in 2013 and is the only one to win one as a player and manager for a club. The team also collected silverware this year by winning the U.S. Open Cup, eliminating a mostly second-string Dynamo in the process.

When: Thursday, October 26, 2017 (8:30 p.m. CT)

Where: BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, TX

TV: KUBE 57 / UniMás (w/ SAP for English)

Where to watch online: MLSsoccer.com

Record vs SKC: 10 wins, 5 losses, 11 draws (undefeated in last eight league meetings)

Key players to watch: Erick Torres, Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto, Mauro Manotas

The Dynamo win if: The Dynamo have to come out with the right attitude. The team has left points on the table when playing overconfident at home. If they come out and take care of business with a strong mentality, they will prevail and host the Portland Timbers on Monday night.

SKC wins if: They are able to score. For as good a defense as they’ve had, SKC has struggled to find the back of the net. Two goals may be enough for KC to win this game but that’s easier said than done. At this point they have to come out swinging, they have nothing to lose.

Prediction: The Dynamo take care of a tired Kansas City and see out the win to pick up their first playoff win since 2013.

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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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